Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Geography declining in schools - Ofsted
A polarised picture of school geography teaching has emerged from an Ofsted report launched today. While geography was flourishing in a minority of the schools visited by inspectors, it was found to be under pressure in the rest.
With climate change and other geographical issues such as population growth, sustainability and natural disasters increasingly making headline news, the report, ‘Geography - Learning to make a world of difference’, describes the value of the subject and what needs to be done to reverse its decline.
The primary schools visited presented a sharp contrast between inadequate and outstanding practice. Half were characterised by a lack of expertise and awareness of what constituted good geography. In approximately one in 10 of the primary schools visited, geography was more or less disappearing. Just over half the primary and secondary schools visited did not use fieldwork adequately.
In some of the secondary schools visited, there was a drop in the numbers studying geography GCSE. Uninspiring teaching and the lack of challenge discouraged many students from choosing geography at GCSE. The quality of provision was declining and the time allocated to the subject in the first critical years of secondary schools was being reduced.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert said:
‘Geography provision was outstanding in over a quarter of all the schools we visited but just over half were not using geography to good effect to support pupils in understanding their role in their locality, their country and the wider world.
‘Where geography was flourishing, students had a strong understanding of place. They also cared about their environment and had an awareness of social, political, economic and environmental issues. Good fieldwork played an important part in deepening student’s knowledge and understanding.
‘Where provision is weaker, schools should focus on developing pupils’ core knowledge in geography, particularly their sense of place. Where geography is taught thematically or within a humanities programme, the subject elements should be identified clearly, and taught properly and covered fully.’
The report recommends that secondary schools in particular should focus on improving the quality of their provision in Key Stage 3, so that more pupils will be able to continue to study geography successfully at GCSE and post 16.
Schools should also provide subject-specific support and professional development for teachers to improve their confidence and expertise, enabling them to teach geography more effectively.
Opportunities for fieldwork to enhance learning and improve motivation should be improved, but fieldwork also needs to be of good quality.
The report showcases much best practice too. In one secondary school studying how Olympic regeneration would benefit East London, lessons were well planned and stimulating, using an array of activities to engage students who enjoyed their lessons. ‘No two are the same,’ said one. There was a sense of anticipation wondering what each geography lesson would contain.
In another secondary school a wide range of activities, games and competitions were available on the school’s website under the heading ‘Mission Geography’, much of it written in-house. Many GCSE students downloaded material from the blog onto their iPods for revision, helping them fit extra learning into their schedules.
Notes for Editors
1. The report will be available on the Ofsted website www.ofsted.gov.uk
2. This report draws on evidence from visits by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) and Additional Inspectors to look at geography in a sample of 91 primary and 90 secondary schools (including one special school) from 2007 to 2010.
It builds on ‘Geography in schools: changing practice’, published in 2008.
Geography in schools changing practice
3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
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